Famous animal-sciences professor gives student personal and professional inspiration

I came to CSU chomping at the bit to get away from my boring high-school years and to study things that interest me. During the summer before I got to campus I enrolled in my first college classes, expecting to get nothing but the basic requirements.

So I was ecstatic to find out that I’d be taking a class with Dr. Temple Grandin, the world-renowned animal-welfare advocate — and one of CSU’s most famous professors.

Dr. Grandin, a professor in the CSU Department of Animal Sciences, is a woman who has revolutionized the entire livestock and meat-production industry — almost single-handedly. She has done this with unique insights into animal behavior and with facility designs to handle livestock humanely. For these advances, she has won praise from both consumers and people working in animal agriculture.

Well-known in the agricultural and scholarly worlds, Dr. Grandin is also an inspiration in the world of autism because she has overcome her own struggles with autism to make an impact with her work.

Dr. Grandin’s unique and brilliant mind makes her story remarkable. Being autistic, she had no speech until she was 3 ½ years old, did not like to experience new things and did not like surprises.
She often describes herself as a visual thinker, who thinks primarily in pictures.

In her bestselling book, “Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism,” Dr. Grandin writes that her mind is like an “Internet search engine that is set to find images.” (This book is the basis for the HBO movie, “Temple Grandin,” which won seven Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.)

Her autism and unique way of thinking gave Dr. Grandin a talent that she would use to transform the livestock industry. She describes the thinking of many animals as being similar to hers. Animals think based on their senses and visual impressions, Dr. Grandin explains. Visual inputs, along with sound, smell, taste and touch, determine animal behavior.

She advocates working which these behavioral inclinations, rather than against them, to greatly reduce livestock stress.

In the 1970s, Dr. Grandin started working with beef cattle. At a beef plant, she witnessed a handler’s brutal force with cattle that were not moving though pens and chutes because they were uncertain of the surroundings. This angered Dr. Grandin, and also motivated her to understand why the cattle were not moving on.

Her ability to think in pictures allowed her to discover why the cattle were moving slowing and becoming distracted. Dr. Grandin got right in the chutes and on the facility floors to get a cow’s-eye view and to identify problems. She quickly eliminated shadows, light gleams, silly misplaced objects and other factors that distracted cattle and prevented their relaxed movement.

These kinds of insights about individual and herd behavior led Dr. Grandin to develop facility designs that put cattle at ease and allowed them to move naturally through a facility.

I was fortunate to take her Animal Handling class in fall 2011, when she shared her revolutionary ideas and the reasons for her passion in animal agriculture. As a student of Dr. Grandin, I know I’m studying from the best in the world, a true living legend. She is training this generation of animal scientists about humane animal-handling strategies — so that we can take her ideas into the future.

Dr. Grandin is my inspiration because she maintains an advocacy role in every arena of her life – 0                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   agriculture, facility designs, animal behavior, autism, and teaching her students at CSU Her “simple logic” has been a revelation to food-animal producers, and she has become a hero to people inside and outside autism circles because she has not let obstacles stop her.

Dr. Grandin excited me because she helped me focus on what I want to achieve in my professional life: I want to be an advocate for agriculture. Her example helps me see that I can accomplish my goals and dreams if I have enough determination and passion.

She is an inspiration who has helped me find who I want to be. I now have a goal in mind, and the motivation to become the young professional and person I want to become.

I encourage you to find something or someone in your college career to help turn on a light for you, something or someone to inspire you to be the person you want to become.

Malinda DeBell is a sophomore animal science major. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.